Sport Sport Focus Why visibility is everything in women’s sport
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Why visibility is everything in women’s sport

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After a week where the fragility of women’s sport has again been on display it was good to get some cheerful news.

In a last-gasp attempt to convince the ABC to reverse its decision to axe live coverage of the WNBL, past and present greats of the game have been in campaign mode.

They’ve delivered a petition to ABC offices across the country calling on the national broadcaster to continue its 35-year partnership with the WNBL.

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Former Opals stars Allison Tranquilli and Trish Fallon presented the 5,000-strong petition to the ABC in Melbourne on Wednesday.

Not far away in the boardroom of Cricket Australia, the finishing touches were being put on the announcement of an eight-team Women’s Big Bash League, which will align itself with the men’s competition.

The WBBL will adopt the same colours and names of the BBL franchises and replace the current Women’s T20 competition.

“We want cricket to be the number one sport for girls and women in Australia and we believe that the WBBL can assist this goal by creating an inspiring visible pathway for the next generation of players, fans and volunteers,” Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said.

Aligning the WBBL with the BBL is the right way forward, the only way forward. It allows women’s cricket to be seen by a new legion of fans who already have an interest in cricket but may never have seen women play it at the elite level.

From my experience half the battle is getting people to watch women’s sport. Once they do, it becomes abundantly clear antiquated notions about women athletes not being strong, skilful or entertaining enough just don’t hold up.

It’s also the right time to join forces with the BBL. Now in its fourth year, it feels like everything has clicked into place. Record-breaking crowds, a few less gimmicks on the television coverage and international star power – the BBL can now rightfully own its place as a legitimate part of the Australian summer.

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NSW Breakers captain Alex Blackwell in action against South Australia. Photo: Getty

So yes, this is cause of celebration. As a passionate advocate of equality in sport you’ve got to take the victories when they come but I won’t be rushing out to buy a bottle of something French and fizzy until the broadcast deal is in place.

Cricket Australia says its strong desire is to have the WBBL on free-to-air television and it’s working through arrangements at the moment.

Visibility in sport is crucial.

Signatories to the WNBL petition say the ABC’s decision to drop the sport will cut access and publicity to levels not seen since the 1970’s. It’s disheartening to say the least.

The impact goes deeper than just participation levels. It deprives girls and young women of role models of the non-Kardashian kind.

We live in a society that grimly hangs on to gender stereotypes. We can ill-afford to lose role models like Lauren Jackson, Rachel Jarry and Abby Bishop.

So it’s over to you Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry and Alex Blackwell.

Cricket Australia is in discussions over how the players will be contracted. Some may have to relocate to evenly distribute the talent. The scheduling of games is also to be determined.

My hope is the WBBL will be played before the men’s games, not only to maximize exposure, but also to show women’s sport is as worthy as men’s sport. That message alone can change attitudes from the playground right through to the boardroom.

When the broadcast deal is done I’ll allow myself a more boisterous celebration.

In the meantime let’s hope the WNBL petition isn’t a wasted gesture.

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